The picture above is from my first day at school. My mom, oddly fearful of people in the future not knowing who was pictured or what was going on, staged the scene with my name and a questionable “school” sign. This may be the first time I ever had to wear a nametag. 

My mom always says, “If you don’t have to wear a name tag at work, you really made it.”

By her standards I made it years ago, but by Bay Area standards, I’m in my second week of making it: I work for a tech company that’s paying me well. I’m still adjusting to the job, but it seems great so far and the switch to technical writing and editing from mostly sales and CPG copy has been stimulating. 

It’s been fun to see the Silicon Valley stereotypes up close. I take two trains to get in to the office and get a lot of people watching in. One of the things I’ve noticed is how popular fancier versions of the classic Clark’s desert boot are for men. I’ve always gone in for the regular beeswax brown or black leather options, but dudes down here wear all manner of oddly colored and contrast stitched shoes. 

Plaid shirts or branded t-shirts are the norm for men. Women tend towards modest and patterned business casual. They are, on the whole less schlubby than their male counterparts. 

All manner of accessories are employed to better manage the commute. I’ve seen a smorgasbord of laptop backpacks, motorized skateboards and noise cancellation headphones in the last two weeks. It’s like a Sharper Image couture show. 

Personally, I haven’t changed really anything about my gear, but I do have my eyes on some nicer headphones (piped in office music is extremely distracting to me when I’m writing) and those Mission Workshop bags look pretty sturdy. I’d like to get myself a cool bicycle built up, but my trusty old Diamondback is holding up just fine. 

borges
The magnificent author Jean Luis Borges.

I like to give myself annual challenges. Last year I set out to write a blog post every day for a year. After the success of that project I set my sights on something equally as intellectually enriching. For 2017 I would read 100 books.

I came to this number because I saw quite a few people who set 50 as their goal and I have become increasingly competitive in just about every pursuit I value.

As of today I’m halfway there and 13 days ahead of schedule. There’s no particular guiding theme behind what I read. I own and frequently purchase books that are both old and new. I seem to have a habit of reading personal development books, but I enjoy fiction and memoir more. Interestingly enough, I think I’ve read more female authors this year than in any before it.

I spend time with a lot of books on business, writing, editing, and marketing because it’s my career and I believe you should be constantly increasing whatever skills put food on your plate, a roof over your head and ammo in the magazine. I stumbled into a pretty good career and now that I’m making a fairly substantial income (for me), I aim to become world class.

What humans do in extreme situations is of some interest to me, which is why I really enjoy war and addiction books.

If someone gives me a book to read, I’ll usually bump it up to the top of my list, though I don’t often follow up on suggestions unless the person is also a writer or an equally heavy reader. Another frequent influence on my list is my podcast, Scary Thoughts. Most of the philosophy and criticism I’ve read in the last year eventually shows up on the show.

A lot of people seem to think this is a brutally difficult goal, but it’s really not. It takes an average of a book every 3.65 days. Some books are shorter, some are longer. If you spend a little time in the morning and don’t watch Netflix at night, you could do this too. I have a brutal train commute thanks to my new job, which will give me even more opportunity to rip through pages.

I feel like I’ve learned more in the last six months than I did in my entire undergraduate course load. That line in Good Will Hunting about how you could get a better education than a Harvard one for some library late fees is legit. I actually wish I didn’t have such a fetish for owning books so I could enjoy just borrowing books. I’d save a ton of money.

In case you’re interested, here’s the list of what I’ve read so far (most recent first):

  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
  • A Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi
  • The Content Code by Mark W. Schaeffer
  • Extreme Ownership: How Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
  • Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
  • Chief Marketing Officers at Work by Josh Steimle
  • Men, Women and Chainsaw: Gender in the Modern Horror Film by Carol Clover
  • Come and Take It: The Gun Printer’s Guide to Thinking Free by Cody Wilson
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • The Simple Path to Wealth: Your Road Map to Financial Independence and a Rich, Free Life by JL Collins
  • The Like Switch: An FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over by Jack Scaefer, P.h.D. with Marvin Karlins, P.h.D
  • The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
  • What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude, and Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength by Scott Carney
  • Crush It! Why NOW is the Time to Cash in On Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk
  • The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trial Into Triumph by Ryan Holiday
  • Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
  • Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smalville Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison
  • Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste by Carl Wilson
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess
  • So Sad Today by Melissa Broder
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanne Clarke
  • A Long Slow Screw by Eugene S. Robinson
  • Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors by George W. Bush
  • The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
  • Voice of the Fire by Alan Moore
  • Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
  • Lunatic Heroes: Memories, Lies and Reflections by C. Anthony Martignetti
  • Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing
  • How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  • Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  • The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
  • Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Ursula Nordstrom
  • Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  • I Remember the Last War by Bob Hoffman
  • Valley of the Dolls by Jaqueline Susanne
  • Conversations with Capote by Lawrence Grobel
  • Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters by Major Dick Winters
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
  • Becoming a Barbarian by Jack Donovan
  • The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley, P.h.D. and William D. Danko, P.h.D.
  • True Allegiance by Ben Shaprio
  • Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
  • Kamikaze:  A Japanese Pilot’s Own Spectacular Story of the Famous Suicide Squadrons by Yasuo Kuwahara and Gordon T. Allred
  • Hard-Core Life of My Own by Harley Flanagan
  • The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

 

 

 

 

 

Alameda_Food_Bank3

Mrs. Lott has a way of forcing me to do things I should do, but never actually make time to do. She was a big part of my decision to start taking classes at City College a decade ago. She encouraged me to go hard for this great new job I have. This morning we volunteered at the Alameda Food Bank, even though I desperately wanted to sleep in.

She signed us up about a month ago and I agreed, thinking I’d get out of it somehow.  We were up late last night at a party thrown at an insanely weird Airbnb in the Berkeley Hills built for rich sex cultists. We were celebrating her co-worker’s birthday, so there was no extramarital fornication. The place looked like it was owned by Jackie Treehorn from The Big Lebowski. There were dozens of little hideaways in the house and more than enough clues to indicate what usually goes on in this slightly feral architectural wonder is probably on the Eyes Wide Shut spectrum.

Like us, the celebrants were monogamous (as far as I know), and other than the possible destruction of a very expensive espresso machine, nothing too wild happened while we were there. That’s not the point of this story, anyway.

The Alameda Food Bank is a great organization. It deserves your donations and your time if you live near it. The money they receive is put to good use and almost all of it gets turned directly into food for the people who need it.

Most of the help needed from volunteers is sorting donated food in their warehouse or helping to hand it out on pickup days. If you’re able to pick up 50lb bags of apples and potatoes, you will be put to use hauling heavy things around and sorting them into more manageable sized  bags for people to take home. Most of my three hour shift was spent carrying large boxes around and bagging broccoli. I love this sort of work.

Mrs. Lott was assigned to the front of house and helped people shop when they arrived. This food bank has a very cool system where people are allowed to choose what they want ahead of time and volunteers guide them to different stations, making sure they get what’s on their list. The food is actually pretty healthy, there is a lot of produce and the packaged goods are solid staples.

The people who use the food bank come from all walks of life because food insecurity affects people from all kinds of backgrounds. The volunteers are about as diverse as the people they serve. About a dozen strong backed young men from a college fraternity worked alongside old white hippies, Chinese retirees, Mexican high school students and moms from Alameda. These are great people.

I made two new friends I hope to see again the next time I volunteer. The first was a retired motorcycle mechanic in his late 60s who has been riding Japanese motorcycles since the 70s. I always love talking to these grey-beard-gear-heads because I have a strong fondness for the bikes they rode when they were young. I love hearing about what it was like to buy a brand new KZ1000 from a dealership and smash it across the country. For some reason they always seem shocked that I owned a Yamaha RD400 and a Honda Dream in my 20s.

The second friend was a lady from the Philippines in her 60s. She survived breast cancer about 18 years ago and has been making a major go at life ever since. She eats healthy and goes to the gym all the time. Yesterday she went to two Zumba classes, speed walked on a treadmill for two hours and played basketball with her friends afterwards. Her energy was out of control.

I’m definitely going to make this a monthly thing. As much as the Alameda Food Bank appreciates the help, the truth is, I think I got more out of it than they did. I had really fun conversations and got a pretty solid workout in. But more than that, I got out of my own head for a little while. You can’t feel anxiety or any of the other bullshit that keeps you down when you’re serving others. It’s sort of like the Spartan thing, don’t worry about yourself, worry about the person next to you.

If you live in the Bay Area and you want to volunteer with me, I’d love you to be there. This is the real work that needs doing, not the self congratulatory nonsense political cosplay you see on the internet. That shit is for losers. Don’t be a loser. Be someone who helps people.

If you can’t make it out yourself, please consider a making donation: http://www.alamedafoodbank.org/donate/

mariachi

When I met my wife’s friend B___ he was wearing a black Fred Perry track suit, an 80s-Italian-guy-on-the-Jersey-Shore-meets-Compton-dope-dealer amount of gold jewelry. His hair and sunglasses were very Liam Gallagher.

We’d learn later that he was just getting a nice dope habit going, but for this night he was put together and months away from crashing. He and I hit it off fairly well. He seemed distracted by a dried out contact lens and kept jamming his eye, trying to induce tears to relieve his ocular suffering.

He was stumbling about on the edge of a dance floor when a brutal fight broke out between two goth girls. It wasn’t just a few shoves, either. It was a hair pulling, you stole my man, beat down that still ranks as one of the most intense fights I’ve ever seen in person.

B____ didn’t even look up. He wasn’t even interested. He just punched something into his Nokia and walked towards the bar. I remember thinking at the time, “this dude must be used to seeing some crazy shit if this brawl doesn’t even register.” That thought was confirmed as I grew to know him.

 

metairie

Growing up in the suburbs of New Orleans makes you a strange person. Metairie and Kenner are basically the burbs from Poltergeist, haunted by their great graveyard sister city to the east.

Construction is newer, but nothing is modern. It was old when it was new. If you tried to be a skateboarder in the 80s it was rough going. All the streets and sidewalks are broken, especially in the older neighborhoods.

We all imagined hands coming out of those cracks, at least I did. Everyone said they knew a haunted house. I’ve been in a bunch, but I never saw anything supernatural. Maybe one day the paint will peel and some wild creature will try to kill us all.

girls

I really have to give it to Lena Dunham. Last week’s episode of GIRLS was very well done. There are spoilers to follow.

There are only two characters in the main scenes, Hannah and a famous writer named Chuck Palmer. Everything happens through dialog. It’s set in the writer’s beautiful and orderly apartment. The setting is unlike earlier seasons where all the action takes place in dumpy apartments and grimy cafes. As Hannah becomes a real writer, she is moving in nicer circles, even while she mines her past for stories.

This story centers around an alleged sexual impropriety from Palmer. A fan claims he abused their relationship to pressure her into sex. She was not the only person speaking out and Hannah wrote a piece about it for an obscure website. Palmer, impressed by her writing and incensed she would take the word of a stranger over his, invites Hannah over to talk about it.

Things start off defensively. Palmer tells his side of the story, explains his motives in a fairly open way; Hannah gives him a short but not too tinny breakdown of her reasons, historical, political, and personal, for her willingness to believe the victim.

Palmer seems manipulative from the opening. Or perhaps it’s that I’m used to things going sideways on this show. He explains the story from his point of view and makes a connection of sorts with Hannah. They bond over a first edition of a Philip Roth novel which he gives her. I think the acting in this scene is first rate. Hannah seems very happy and taken by complete surprise by Palmer’s generosity. There is a flash of corruption foreshadowing his real motivation, to offer her a payment she might not be able to pass up when he whips his dick out.

We’ve just heard Hannah’s repartee with Palmer over power dynamics and sexual abuse and this is a test for her. She goes in for his dick like season 1 Hannah would’ve, but with a look of confused horror.

Dunham, who I don’t always have the nicest things to say about, is very good at awkwardness and tension. The moment Palmer unfurls his dong is hilarious and embarrassing to watch. Palmer’s daughter comes home early, interrupting the dick handling, robbing Hannah of her moment to decide whether she wants to make a point of standing up for what she believes in, or kind of sell out for sex.

I love this end because it doesn’t let the viewer know if this is still the same old Hannah or if there’s actually been a change.

face

Quite a few writers I like seem to be characters in their own right. Alan Moore is a curmudgeonly wizard. Hunter S. Thompson was a wild, untamable mutant. Grant Morrison, another comic writer, is a bald psychedelic adventurer because he wrote about a bald psychedelic adventurer.

William S. Burroughs, Anais Nin, Anne Rice; it goes on and on and on. These writers are all eccentrics. Many got weirder after they got famous, but there exists in all these people I mentioned a spark of the bizarre.

Stephen King (and plenty of others) write about how all writers need a place of their own, assembled just so. Maybe you need a costume, too, assembled just so.

A few weeks ago in New Orleans, I was talking about changing up my look with a friend of mine who happens to have a good one. I have slipped into unkemptness, and considered just getting a haircut and a new wardrobe from J. Crew, something to blend in. He told me I’d always look like I was wearing a costume, no matter what I had on. This is probably true.

So what sort of costume? Can this be a magical act of intention? Will it spur creativity? I know that looking a certain way can open and shut doors, which can open and shut experiences. Maybe I’ll just start with white t-shirts instead of black. Kind of like a Gandalf costume change.